The end always comes. As we’ve documented here, here, and here, our historic places are frequently losing the battle with time and the elements. The places shown here, two churches, a school, an Air Force installation, and a Nordic ski jump, were all photographed in the last decade or so, and now — in the blink of an eye really — they are gone. This is why we shoot ’em… because too many of them share this fate. Here are five more lost North Dakota places. …
Near the center of the state, in Wells County, about fifteen miles northwest of Carrington, Cathay stands as a great example of a shrinking North Dakota railroad community in the heart of farming country. It was founded in 1892 and the first post office went up the following year, to serve the Soo Line railroad. At one time, there were 255 residents here, but in the 2000 Census, the number was 56. Ten years later, the 2010 tally was 43.
Some might argue it was after the closing of the school when things started to look a little bleak in Cathay. Some might say, “No, it was the post office,” and still others would insist there was some other tipping point, but in reality the railroad was responsible for the fate of many small towns like this, and as went the railroad, so went the town. …
Little country schools like this one are a rapidly vanishing part of our history on the prairies of the high plains. From the signing of the Homestead Act through the modernization of the transportation and education systems, little country schools like this were constructed by the thousands across the Midwest to serve about a dozen students at a time. Families who had come to settle new homesteads, sometimes by wagon and sometimes by train, would send their children to a rural school where they would receive their education, frequently from a young female teacher who was barely out of school herself. In many instances, when boys reached an age where they could handle the arduous work of farming, they would leave school to work full-time on the family farm. …
The last time we visited Chaseley, North Dakota, was in June of 2005, and it was a spur of the moment stop that we hadn’t planned. We took a few photos but didn’t run into anybody wandering about, so we moved along to the next stop without learning much about this tiny town in Wells County, right in the middle of North Dakota.
On the way home from a trip to western North Dakota in July of 2017, however, we decided to make another stop in Chaseley, and we’re glad we did, because we got to meet a couple Chaseley residents and learn a lot more about this slowly vanishing place. …
When Lewis & Clark came to the area that is today North Dakota, they began to recruit men and women to join the Corps of Discovery. One of their new recruits was Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trapper who had been living among the Hidatsa. He had taken two Shoshone women as his wives–Otter Woman and Sakakawea (Sacagawea). Lewis and Clark saw an opportunity in hiring Charbonneau, since he could speak French and some Hidatsa, and his wives could speak Shoshone. Charbonneau was hired as a translator for the expedition, but was judged harshly by members of the Corps, and by historians in later days. Charbonneau was found to be timid in the water, and quick tempered with his wives. Although some came to appreciate Charbonneau’s cooking, in particular, a recipe for sausage made from bison meat, Meriwether Lewis said he was “a man of no particular merit.” …
Corinth is a near-ghost town in Williams County, about thirty-four miles northeast of Williston. Although one of the residents has taken over a portion of the town, Corinth is still fairly intact with lots of original buildings in time-worn condition.
Corinth was founded in 1916 and reportedly had a peak population of 108 around 1920, and although that figure began to dwindle almost immediately, the Post Office stayed open until 1969. Corinth was an unincorporated town and as a result, there are no reliable census figures to be found. …
Forbes, North Dakota is in Dickey County, about thirty miles southeast of Ashley, right on the South Dakota border. On nearly every trip, we go out looking forward to seeing a certain town, but on the way home, we realize another town was better or more fun. In this adventure in June of 2011, Forbes was that town — the pleasant surprise. …
Argusville is located right off I29 about fifteen minutes north of Fargo. It was founded in 1880 and dwindled to around 100 residents by the 1980’s, but experienced a population boom after the turn of the millennium. Argusville now has a population of 475. So this abandoned high school is a rare spot in an otherwise budding town.
The last class graduated from this school in 1997 when it was known as Cass Valley North High School. …
This is a simple truth. There is no greater pleasure per penny than searching through a box of old postcards in an antique store. A little hard on the lower back if you’re wearing the wrong pair of shoes, but pleasurable none-the-less. Here are a few old postcards featuring scenes from Marmarth.
Year of the above photo is unknown but I’m guessing early 1930s. Look closely — on the left, behind the grassy median, several black sedans are parked. And on the right, a horse waits for it’s rider to return. This photo postcard provides some insight into the original location of the depot, and the 1st National Bank/Barber Auditorium building we photographed on our first trip to Marmarth is visible on the left.
A great slice of life from old Marmarth. Everybody’s dressed to the nines, the fountain is going, and there are trains in the background. The effort that went into this photo!
Above: Marmarth High School. It no longer stands.
See Also: Marmarth, North Dakota
Original content copyright © Sonic Tremor Media 2017
We photographed this solitary Haynes Township school back in 2013, and although we featured it in a video, we never posted the actual photographs until now. It is in Kidder County, Haynes Township, just off Highway 3, about 11 miles north of Steele, North Dakota. A little further north are a few other places we’ve photographed, including the Tuttle School, two Clear Lake Township schools (here, and here) and true ghost town Arena, North Dakota is about 15 minutes northwest of this place. …
Gascoyne is in Bowman County along Highway 12 in southwestern North Dakota, about 15 minutes east of Bowman. It was founded in 1907 as a Milwaukee Road railroad townsite, originally known as Fischbein, named after an early settler.
The former school is the most prominent abandoned structure in Gascoyne. It rests on top of a hill on the west edge of town, right alongside Highway 12.
This school house still stands, right off Highway 2, between Devils Lake and Rugby. If you make that drive, you’ll see it just north of the highway. To our knowledge, it is the only remaining original structure from the town that once was Grand Harbor, ND
Don Collings sent us these photos of High Cliff School with the following comments:
These are views of High Cliff School in Cow Creek Township, about 20 miles northwest of Williston. I attended this school with my brothers and sister (the Collings’ kids, along with the Haven’s, Barkie’s, Benth, Kjos and Brothers kids. The school reopened in 1953 and closed in 1961. To my knowledge it is still standing.
Ghosts of North Dakota is a wonderful web site. Keep up the great work.
Hanks, North Dakota, in Williams County, about 33 miles northwest of Williston, is a lonely outpost on the prairie, just one resident away from being a ghost town.
Hanks was the subject of some national media in 2008 when National Geographic published The Emptied Prairie (available at the link only with a subscription) by Charles Bowden, a polarizing piece roundly denounced by many North Dakotans in letters to editors, in the Dickinson Press for example, or the Bismarck Tribune.
In the article, Bowden characterized a number of North Dakota communities, including Hanks, truthfully with respect to their shrinking populations, but in terms that many found depressing or disparaging. …
This is Wabek, North Dakota, in Mountrail County, about 35 miles southwest of Minot. Wabek was founded in 1914 and we visited and captured these photos 100 years later, in 2014.
According to North Dakota Place Names by Doug Wick, Wabek even had a radio station once, broadcasting with the call letters WABK. Wabek’s all-time high population was 46 in the 1930 Census, but today there appears to be only one occupied property on the town site.
This saloon was the last remaining business in Wabek for a long time before it finally closed too… one lonely watering-hole splashed with white block letters on its facade, tall enough to be seen by anyone passing on the lightly-traveled highway a half mile to the north.
Even after this saloon closed as an official place of business, it was still used for special events. As recently as 2003, “The Wabek Bar” hosted a bachelorette auction, a Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament, and a street dance.
This place is in no condition to host anything these days. It seems structurally sketchy and there’s a huge hornets nest growing on the ceiling inside. Unfortunately, this saloon looks beyond saving unless someone decides to take heroic action right away.
Wabek actually had a Post Office for almost fifty years, from 1917 to 1966.
Below: a look inside the red building shown above.
This house is on the northwest corner of the town site.
Just to the north of the house, this old pump (above) and the retaining wall below. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me what I was looking at, and I still don’t know.
Further to the south is this impressive Wabek School, which appears to be two fairly standard one-room school houses joined in the center for a twin classroom model.
Across the road from the school is this church, which , at the time we visited, had been repurposed as a dwelling and was the only building on the original town site that was occupied.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
We first visited Arena, North Dakota, a ghost town in Burleigh County, about 35 miles northeast of Bismarck, in 2004, and we’ve been keeping our eyes on it ever since, with the assistance of some kindred spirit adventurers who check-in from time to time to let us know what’s happening.
We’ve been told the tiny one-room school shown above was originally somewhere else, and that it was moved to this location. A different building, Arena Public School, was torn down in the 90s, but we got some photos of it thanks to Dale Fisher.
Above: Looking northwest on Arena’s only remaining street. There is more here than can be seen in the photo. In the overgrowth on the far left, the home below slowly succumbs to nature. When we first visited in 2004, this place was not nearly so subject to nature’s encroachment.
One of the reasons we chose to revisit Arena is because someone had tipped us off that, just beyond the home shown above, something new had appeared in this prairie ghost town–the home shown below.
Someone has recently moved this home into Arena, where it now sits on cinder blocks and wood cribbing. Whether the owner intends to live in this location, or is just storing this home here, we don’t know. After being a ghost town for over three decades, could Arena be on the verge of becoming an inhabited place again?
We’ve been told this little yellow house was the last inhabited structure in Arena, and that a gentleman named Mike Forth was the last resident. The house had apparently been uninhabited for some time before he moved in and lived here for a short time in the 1980s.
The interior of the yellow house looks much the same as it did when we visited 12 years earlier.
The former St. John’s Lutheran Church is the most prominent structure in Arena, and one of our favorites. We featured it on the cover of our book, Ghosts of North Dakota, Volume 3, and several friends have periodically updated us on the condition of this place over the years. When we first visited, one wall of the cinderblock foundation had collapsed. Today, things are much worse.
Both sides of the cinderblock foundation have now completely collapsed. It if weren’t for the row of columns supporting the center beam, this church would have imploded already into a heap of lumber. How long St. John’s can remain standing this way is still in question.
From a distance, it’s clear that gravity is beginning to take a toll on this old prairie church. How many more winters of heavy snowfall can it withstand?
Around back, the block chimney has collapsed like a stack of legos into the back yard.
We made a point to pause for a moment, to take a photo and one long look at St. John’s before we left, in case it’s no longer standing the next time we visit.
Distracted by the “Oh Wow” factor of the church, we never paid much attention to the grain elevators on our previous visits, but they are an attraction themselves.
It’s hard to imagine the days when train tracks split this landscape and locomotives rumbled through. You can see the remains of the railbed on satellite imagery, but on the ground, the elevator is the only clue that the railroad once served Arena.
With one school gone, and a church about to collapse, but a new home suddenly onsite, we’re unsure about the future of this place. How much longer for ghost town Arena?
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Bergen is a near-ghost town in McHenry county, just off Highway 52, about 30 miles southeast of Minot. The town was founded with a post office in 1905, and the railroad arrived in 1907. Bergen’s peak population was reportedly 98 residents.
Like most of the little railroad towns we’ve photographed, the population began to dwindle during the Depression and Dust Bowl years, partly due to hardship, and partly due to changing transportation and agricultural practices. According to the 2010 Census, only 7 remain. These photos were taken that same year.
US Census Data for Bergen
Total Population by Place
1960 – 52
1970 – 24
1980 – 24
2000 – 11
2010 – 7
A site visitor has asked about a murder/suicide that reportedly happened in the farm house where she lives in the Bergen area (see comments below). Do you know anything about it?
Above: The former Bergen Public School, home of the Bergen Vikings. This school was only used for a little more than a decade–built in the 50s and closed in the 60s.
What do you know about Bergen, North Dakota? Please leave a comment below.
Photos by Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
This former schoolhouse is virtually all that remains of a town that was once Maza in southern Towner county, a short drive south of Cando. In 2000, the population of Maza was listed as 5. In 2002, the city was dissolved. Today, there are some scattered buildings in the area and a farm or two.
We ran across this building in 2008, sitting right beside the highway. Terry snapped a few quick photos, and we promptly forgot all about them. We rediscovered them eventually, but couldn’t remember where they were taken. Our Facebook fans were able to identify the location as Maza. Fun!
Update: a visitor has commented to say this school apparently burned sometime in 2015/2016. Maza School is no more.
Does anyone know the official name of this school? What do you know about this place? Please leave a comment below.
Photos by Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
It’s been closed since 1959, but Meyer Township School Number 1 still stands, right off US Highway 2, just a couple miles east of Rugby, North Dakota. It’s a frequently photographed place due to its highly visible location right next to the highway–just as I was leaving, someone else was pulling in to get some photos of their own. …
The McGregor town site was established in 1910 and assumed the name of a nearby rural post office which had been established five years earlier. We visited McGregor, in Williams County about 45 miles northeast of Williston, in 2010, and we were somewhat surprised by the large number of vacant buildings. …
Unfortunately, we have to do a post like this from time to time. As the years pass, many of the places we’ve photographed also pass… into history. Whether it be the wrecking ball, weathering, or disaster, many of the places we’ve photographed since 2003 are now gone. We documented some of the losses in 10 Lost North Dakota Places and 10 More Lost North Dakota Places, now, unfortunately, here are 8 More Lost North Dakota Places.
A visitor recently commented to tell us the Maza School apparently burned sometime in 2015 or 2016. As one of the few remaining structures from Maza, the end of this school effectively spells the end for Maza.
Bluegrass Store and Gas Station
Bluegrass, North Dakota, is a true ghost town, population zero, in Morton County, about thirty-five miles northwest of Mandan. Bluegrass is a former rural community that had a population of 20 in the 1920 Census, a relatively small peak population, but not surprising considering the railroad never came to Bluegrass. Sadly, this former store and gas station burned down in 2014.
Northgate Port of Entry
Northgate is a fascinating near-ghost town right on the Canadian border, about 70 miles northwest of Minot. It was originally founded one mile to the north, but moved one mile south to its present site. While the original town site retained the name North Gate (with a space) this town was renamed North Gate South, and then re-dubbed Northgate (without the space) when the post office was established in 1914. This building was once the Port of Entry Station, but was abandoned when a new Port was built. A person commented on our Facebook page to say the building has since been demolished.
Much of Leith, North Dakota
Leith‘s troubles have been highly publicized, so we don’t have to say much except that numerous vacant structures were demolished after a white supremacist bought up the property in an attempt to take over the town. This creamery is one of the buildings which no longer stands in Leith.
Lost Bridge was so named because in 1930 when it was originally constructed over the Little Missouri River, about 23 miles north of Killdeer, there were no quality roads leading to the site, and the bridge was seldom used. Paved roads came in the sixties, but Lost Bridge was demolished in 1994 and replaced with a modern highway bridge.
Brantford Public School
Brantford Public School still stands in this Eddy County ghost town, but not for long. One of the classrooms has collapsed and cracks can be seen throughout the exterior walls. Soon, Brantford Public School will be no more.
This church, known as Augustana Lutheran Church (and other names over the years) would have been a fantastic place for a business. It stood in a high traffic location, at the foot of Broadway, across from Sammy’s Pizza in Minot. Sadly, after years of dereliction, mold, and a close call in the 2011 flood, the church was demolished.
Most of Bucyrus
Bucyrus, North Dakota was struck by a wind-driven grassfire in 2010 and many of the abandoned structures in town, as well as a number of family homes, were destroyed. This home, on the west side of town, was one of the casualties. Thankfully, nobody lost their life in the fire, but Bucyrus will never be the same.
After being driven out of Leith, the same white supremacist allegedly tried to buy vacant properties in Antler, North Dakota. The city bought up a number of properties to prevent the takeover, and this former bank building was one of them. In early 2016, it was demolished.
Original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Niagara, North Dakota is just off US Highway 2, not quite forty miles west of Grand Forks. It was founded in 1882 by settlers from Niagara County, New York. According to the 2010 Census, Niagara has 53 residents.
Niagara, North Dakota is the former home of a serial killer, a man named Eugene Butler, a recluse who lived on the edge of town. Butler was committed to the State Asylum in Jamestown in 1904, and he died there in 1911. Four years after he died, an excavation at Butler’s home uncovered a hidden trap door leading to a crawlspace. Inside, authorities found the remains of six people. All had been bludgeoned to death with blows to the back of the head.
Since Butler was already dead, he never saw the inside of a prison for his crimes. There weren’t any local people reported missing, so there are many theories about who the victims were–transient farmhands for instance. Their identities remain a mystery today.
An update on the mystery came from WDAY-TV in Fargo in February, 2016. Case files have been lost over the years, and an effort to perform DNA testing on the victims’ remains depends on the authorities ability to acquire bones stolen by looters in the aftermath of the discovery.
The Butler murders are a chapter of Niagara’s history that many have forgotten. Today, Niagara has a nice historical complex in their town square but there is understandably no mention of Eugene Butler’s crimes. Butler’s home was demolished and a workshop (not shown) stands on the site today.
Just as we pulled into town, the wind started to really blow and a light drizzle began… so we didn’t spend quite as much time photographing Niagara as we would have liked. We’ll definitely go back sometime when the weather is better.
There was once an impressive building on the corner of the intersection shown above. It would have stood where the nose of the pickup is sticking out from behind the fire garage.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Griffin is a true ghost town in Bowman County, along Highway 12, about halfway between Bowman and Rhame, North Dakota. Although there are some working farms and ranches in the area, there’s barely a town any more, and no apparent residents in the actual townsite.
A maximum population of 67 was reported in 1930, but the post office closed that same year and the town quickly vanished. This old schoolhouse is the most prominent remaining structure from Griffin.
Above: a look inside the old schoolhouse.
Griffin was once the home to some of the biggest stock yards in southwest North Dakota, and reportedly had a store and lumber yard. It was also a stop on one of America’s first cross-country highways–a route from Massachusetts to Seattle, marked in places by three foot stone markers painted yellow, known as the Yellowstone Trail.
Griffin is just one of many true ghost towns we’ve visited in North Dakota, where the buildings still stand but the people are gone. See a list of true ghost towns, population zero.
Griffin was a Milwaukee Road railroad town, and known as Atkinson until February 10, 1908, when the name was changed to Grifiin to honor H.T. Griffin, the Assistant General Passenger Agent for the railroad. What do you know about Griffin, North Dakota? Please leave a comment below.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
Backoo, North Dakota was founded in Pembina County in 1887 along the Great Northern railroad line, about five miles northwest of Cavalier, but little development occurred and the population never exceeded fifty. This lonely one-room school stands alongside the highway, just miles from the incredible beauty of the Pembina Gorge. …
We’re told this place was originally a church and later became a school, and someone told us it was actually a residence for a time as well. If someone can fill in the details of that transition, we’d love to hear it in the comments below. Today, it stands with its door open, waiting for someone to come along and rescue it from the sad fate that awaits all abandoned structures on the prairie. …
In Bowman County, about eleven miles south of Rhame, North Dakota, this place remains, if only on borrowed time. Known simply as Nebo School, this little structure is the ruin of a North Dakota country school. There is very little information on the web about this particular school, so if you have a connection to this little school, please post a comment below and maybe we can remedy that. …
Gascoyne is on the east edge of Bowman County, in southwest North Dakota, about fifty-five miles south of Dickinson. The town, not far from the South Dakota border, was first called Fischbein, after a family who settled the area, but the name was changed to Gascoyne in 1908. According to the 2010 Census, there are 16 people still living in Gascoyne. …
This Adams County country school is one of hundreds simply withering away in the elements across the plains of North Dakota, having served its purpose in educating the children of the earliest settlers.
Most township schools like these, a single room structure constructed to conform with standard plans, were 18 x 32 and were staffed by a single teacher with students from first through eighth grade. …
This little school is in Adelaide Township, Bowman County, just off Rhame Road, just a few miles south of Rhame, North Dakota. It is a particularly beautiful example of a two-room prairie schoolhouse in a very sparsely populated part of the state.
Our journey to Heil, North Dakota, in Grant County, about fifty miles southwest of Mandan, took place on an evening when the forecast said there was a chance of scattered thunderstorms in the area. We got more than we bargained for and ended up driving through a pounding thunderstorm with rain coming down in torrents. By the time we got to Heil, however, the storm had moved through and we were able to get a few shots of Heil for the first time since our initial visit in 2007. …